Deep Silence pits Joe Ledger against terrorists with bleeding-edge science weapons, an international conspiracy, ancient technologies from Atlantis and Lemuria, and an escalating threat that could crack open the entire Earth.
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HOLY REDEEMER CEMETERY BALTIMORE, MARYLAND
I looked up from the gravestone to see three big guys in the kind of dark suits Feds wear when they want to be intimidating.
I wasn't intimidated.
They weren't wearing topcoats because it was a chilly damn day in Baltimore. There was frost sparkling on the grass around Helen's grave. Winter birds huddled together in the bare trees and the sun was a white nothing behind a sheet of tinfoil-gray clouds.
"Who's asking?" I said.
"We need you to come with us," said the point man. He looked like Lurch from the Addams Family movies. Too tall, too pale, and with a ghoulish face. The other guys might as well have been wearing signs that said "Goon #1" and "Goon #2." I almost smiled. I'd been fronted like this before. Hell, I'd even been fronted here before. Didn't scare me then, didn't scare me now. Didn't like it either time, though.
"I didn't ask what you needed, chief," I said, giving Lurch a bright smile. "I asked who you are."
"Doesn't matter who we are," he said, and he smiled, too.
"Yeah, pretty sure it does," I said, keeping it neutral.
"You need to come with us," Lurch repeated as he took a step toward me. He looked reasonably fit, but his weight was on his lead foot and he tended to gesticulate while he spoke. Whoever trained him to do this kind of stuff wasn't very good at it, or Lurch was simply dumb. He should have had his goons surround me in a wide three-point approach, with none of them directly in the others' lines of fire, and none of them close enough for me to hit or to use as a shield against the others. It always pissed me off when professionals acted like amateurs.
"Badge me or blow me," I suggested.
Goon #2 pulled back the flap of his jacket to expose the Glock he wore on his belt. The holster looked new; the gun looked like he'd never used it for anything except trying to overcompensate.
I ignored him. "Here's the thing, sparky," I said to Lurch in my best I'm-still-being-reasonable voice, "you either don't know who I am or you're operating with limited intelligence. And I mean that in every sense of the word."
"You're Joe Ledger," he said.
"Captain Joe Ledger," I corrected.
His sneer increased. "Not anymore, Mister Ledger."
"Says the president of the United goddamn States."
They were standing in a kind of inverted vee, with Lurch at the point and the goons on either side. Goon #2 had his jacket open; Goon #1 did not. Nor did Lurch. If they were actually experienced agents, they could unbutton and draw in a little over one second. Goon #2 would beat them to the draw by maybe a quarter second.
That wasn't going to be enough time for them.
"Going to ask one more time," I said quietly, still smiling. "Show me your identification. Do it now and do it smart."
Lurch gave me a ninja death stare for three full seconds but then he reached into his jacket pocket and produced a leather identification wallet, flipped it open, and held it four inches from my nose. Secret Service.
"Someone could have made a phone call and gotten me in," I said.
"No," he said, without explaining. "Now, here's how it's going to play out. You're going to put your hands on your head, fingers laced, while we pat you down. If you behave, we won't have to cuff you. If you act out, we'll do a lot more than cuff you, understand, smart guy?"
"'Act out'?" I echoed. "That's adorable. Not sure I've ever heard a professional use that phrasing before."
"They said he'd be an asshole, Tony," said Goon #1.
Tony — Lurch — nodded and contrived to look sad. "Okay, then we do it the hard way."
All three of them went for their guns.
Like I said, they didn't have enough time for that.CHAPTER 2
HOLY REDEEMER CEMETERY BALTIMORE, MARYLAND
I was close enough to kill him, but that wasn't my play.
So, instead I stepped fast into Lurch and hit him in the chest with a palm-heel shot, using all of my mass and sudden acceleration to put some real juice into it. He wasn't set for it at all and fell backward, hard and fast, into Goon #2. They both went down in a tangle. I kept moving forward and kicked Goon #1 in what my old jujitsu instructor used to call the "entertainment center." I wasn't trying to do permanent damage — and there are a lot of creative ways to do that — but I wanted to make a point. I made it with the reinforced rubber tip of my New Balance running shoe. He folded like a badly erected tent. I pivoted and chop-kicked Lurch across the mouth as he tried to simultaneously rise and draw his gun. The running shoes were new and the tread deep and hard. Ah well.
Lurch spun away, spitting blood and a tooth onto the grass. I stamped down on his hand while I took his gun away and tossed it behind me. Then I reached down and gave Goon #2 a double-tap of knuckle punches on either side of his nose. If he had sinus issues he would have a mother of a migraine for days. If he didn't, he'd only have the migraine for the rest of today. I took his gun away, too.
Then I pivoted back to Goon #1, who was wandering feebly on his hands and knees, drool hanging from slack lips, eyes goggling. I gave him a nasty little Thai-boxing knee kick to flip him onto his back, drilled a corkscrew punch to his solar plexus, and took his gun for my collection.
In the movies, fight scenes take several minutes. There's a lot of flash and drama, and when either the good guy or bad guy knocks the other guy down, he lets him get up. As if fights are ever supposed to be fair. For me, fairness began and ended with me not killing them. Every other consideration centered on winning right here, right now, with zero seconds wasted. That's how real fights work.
This fight took maybe two seconds. Maybe less.
Not sure if these fucktards knew what they were getting into. They forced this game, though, which meant I got to set the rules. Sucks to be them. I stole their cuffs and, with a few additional love taps to encourage cooperation, cuffed them all together — wrists to ankles — and added a few zip ties from my pocket to keep it all interesting. The result is they looked like a piece of performance art sprawled there in the icy cemetery grass. None of them were able to talk yet, so I picked their pockets, taking IDs, wallets, key rings with car and handcuff keys. I ripped the curly wires out of their ears and patted them down to reveal small-caliber throwdown pieces strapped to their ankles. A glance showed me that the guns had their serial numbers filed off. The kind used during accidental or illegal killings and then planted on the deceased to build a case for resisting arrest. Wonder if that's what they'd had planned for me.
There was no one around, so I pulled out my cell phone and made a call. My boss, Mr. Church, answered on the second ring.
"I thought you were on vacation," he said by way of answering.
"Me too. Listen," I said, "remember a few years ago when some federal mooks braced me while I was visiting Helen's grave? Well, it must be rerun season, because three of them tried it again. Same place."
"What's the damage?" he asked.
"I think I tore a fingernail."
"They'll recover," I said, and gave him the details, including reading off their names. "You have any idea why this happened?"
"Not yet. Get clear of the area and then find a quiet place where you can sweep your car with an Anteater. Then go to ground and wait for my call."
The line went dead. The Anteater was a state-of-the-art doohickey designed to find even the best active or passive listening system.
Speaking of my car, I could hear muffled barking in that direction. My big white combat shepherd, Ghost, was supposed to be sleeping in the car. He was up and clearly felt as cranky as I did. Lucky for the goon squad that I left the dog in the warm rental car or they'd need a lot more than ice packs and some career counseling.
I pocketed my phone, then dug an earbud out of my trouser pocket and pressed it to the inside of my outer ear. It looks like a freckle. I put the speaker dot on my upper lip by the corner of my mouth. Then I squatted beside Lurch, who was semiconscious and trying to muster the moral courage to give me another death stare. I patted his cheek as a warning, which he chose to ignore.
"You better like Gitmo, motherfu —" Lurch began, and I patted his cheek again, this time hard enough to dim the lights on Broadway.
"Whoever told you that you're good at this is not your friend," I said. "Whoever sent you made a mistake. You came at me here — here — which is an even bigger mistake. Be real careful that it doesn't cost you more than you can afford to pay, feel me?"
He almost said something else, but didn't. He was handcuffed to two guys who were probably supposed to be top-class muscle. I'd handed all of them their asses and hadn't worked up a sweat doing it, so my friend here was probably having a come-to-Jesus moment. His eyes looked wet and his gaze slid away. I picked up the tooth he'd lost, showed it to him, and tucked it into his shirt pocket.
"Now," I said calmly, "tell me why you were ordered to arrest me."
"Look, I — I mean they didn't ...," he stammered. Then he took a breath and tried it again. "The word came down to bring you in and not kiss your ass doing it."
"Who cut the order?"
"My supervisor said it came straight from the top," said Lurch. "Straight from the Oval Office."
"Listen to me," I said quietly. "I can give you a pass for fucking with me. You're following orders. Stupid orders, but orders. I don't hold grudges for that kind of thing. But you came here. You came to where someone very special to me is buried. Of all the places you could have come, you made it this place. That's on you. You're the crew chief here and you could have waited until I was done and walked out of the cemetery. You didn't. That crosses a line with me. I don't forgive that. So, listen very closely and believe me when I tell you that if I ever see you again — here, or anywhere; I don't care where it is or why — I'm going to kill you. I'll make it hurt, too, sparky, and I'll make it last. Now, look me in the eye and tell me that you understand."
I leaned back and let him take a look. He did.
"Tell me," I said.
He licked his lips. What he said was, "I'm sorry."
I punched two of his front teeth out. One fast hit. He fell back so hard his head bounced off the turf.
"I didn't ask for an apology," I said without raising my voice. "Your apology doesn't mean shit, because you already crossed the line. I asked you to tell me you understand."
He started to say something. Don't know what, but he bit down on it with the teeth he had left because it wasn't going to be what I wanted to hear. He was crying now; nose running and fat tears rolling down to mingle with the blood smeared around his mouth and on his chin.
"I ..." He stopped, coughed, tried again. "You won't ... see me again."
"Tell your dickhead friends, too." I straightened. "And tell whoever sent you that this isn't over. I'm going to pay someone a visit. Tell them that."
He nodded but did not dare say another word. There are times you can trash talk and times when you need to consider how comprehensive your healthcare plan really is.
The sun was trying to burn through the clouds and the birds were watching silently in the trees. I almost said something else to him, but left it. If he didn't get it now, then he was unteachable. So, I left him there with his buddies, cuffed in a tangle.
I took all of their personal belongings and weapons back to my car. As I got in, Ghost gave me a deeply reproachful look, as if to say that he couldn't leave me alone for five minutes without me stepping on my own dick.
"Not my fault, fuzzball," I said.
He seemed to read something in me that changed his attitude from high anxiety to wanting to comfort another member of his pack. He'd never known Helen, but he knew this place. He nuzzled me with a cold nose and whined softly until I bent and kissed his head. There were tears burning in my eyes.
They should never have come here. Those motherfuckers.
I started my car and drove over to where a big Crown Victoria with federal plates was parked. I got out and casually slashed the right front tire. I used Lurch's key to pop the locks, but a quick search showed that the vehicle was clean. No warrants, no nothing other than drive-through coffee. One cup was untouched and still hot, so I took it; but one sip revealed the awful truth that it was decaf. I poured it over the front seat and dropped the empty cardboard cup on the floor.
Ghost and I drove away at a casual speed. If anyone saw me they'd think I was calm, cool, and composed.
Was I scared? Yeah. I was absolutely terrified and, sadly, that was not a joke.CHAPTER 3
THE SITUATION ROOM THE WHITE HOUSE WASHINGTON, D.C. TWENTY-TWO MONTHS AGO
The president of the United States sat at the head of the table and smiled at the men gathered around him. The Joint Chiefs; Admiral Lucas Murphy, the White House chief of staff; several top advisors; Jennifer VanOwen, the president's science advisor; and a few close friends to whom he had granted this highest level of security. Most of them looked attentive and mildly surprised since there was no active crisis.
The president turned to General Frank Ballard, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the ranking general of the U.S. Air Force. "Frank, I want to ask you a very important question. There was a program that was canceled by my predecessor. Majestic Three. M3, I believe it was called."
"Yes, Mr. President," said Ballard. "Majestic Three was shut down and all of its resources confiscated and assets reallotted."
"Tell me something, General, did the Majestic Three program do us any good?"
"Good?" The general shook his head. "Hardly, sir. The governors of Majestic Three very nearly caused World War Three."
"That isn't the question I asked, is it? Is it, General? No. I asked if the M3 project did us any measurable good over the years."
"Well, sir," said the general, clearly uncomfortable. He fidgeted and cut looks at the other officers around the table, but no one was willing to meet his eye.
"Do I need to phrase it in smaller words, General?" asked the president. "Or do I need to ask the next person to sit in your chair?"
"It is, um, fair to say that we have benefitted greatly from the various M3 projects," said the general. "New or improved metallurgy, polymers, fiber optics, aircraft design —"
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't the entire stealth aircraft project come out of what they were doing?"
"Yes, Mr. President."
"And isn't the stealth program what's put us ahead in the arms race and kept us there?"
"To an, ah, degree, sir, but —"
"Then I'd say that the good it's done pretty well outweighs the bad, wouldn't you?"
"I'm not sure I can agree with that, sir. One of the T-craft developed by Howard Shelton very nearly destroyed Beijing. Others were being launched to destroy Shanghai, Moscow, Tehran, Pyongyang ..."
"Which might have been a good damn thing," said the president, and every face around the table went pale. "No, don't look at me like that. Sure, it would have been a tragic loss of life, but overall, we'd have accomplished world peace. A lasting peace. We would have insured that American values were instituted around the globe."
The room was utterly silent. The president smiled as if all of the gaping officers and advisors had nodded in agreement.
Jennifer VanOwen spoke into the silence. Over the last few years the science advisor had hitched her star to the president's, even when he was only a candidate, and — even through staff cuts and public controversy — VanOwen had managed to stay out of the news and out of the limelight. A lot of the people in the president's inner circle were afraid of her because she always seemed to know something about them; things that no one else knew. She did; but because she seldom used her knowledge as anything other than an implied threat to support the president, they simply either deferred to her or steered clear. A surprising number of power players around her knelt to put their heads on the chopping block, but among the survivors it was generally believed VanOwen was the one keeping that blade sharp. When she spoke, the president listened.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Deep Silence"
Copyright © 2018 Jonathan Maberry.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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